Archive for Property law
It is clear that the healthcare crisis caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a huge impact on all areas of our daily lives. The state of alarm decreed by the Spanish government, as well as many other governments in foreign countries, has caused movement restrictions and limitations, the closure of the airspace, the paralysis of the business fabric and government agencies, etc. People's everyday lives have been severely affected from a social and economic standpoint.
With this article, we would like to respond, as much as possible, to the doubts and uncertainties of foreign clients buying homes in Spain, as well as their sellers. We are referring to sales between individuals that were already underway with signed contracts but which were 'surprised' by the COVID-19 crisis and the measures adopted by the Spanish government decreeing the state of alarm.
At the end of the article, we will comment briefly on the legal situation of sales of new homes or off-plan sales from developers.
What does Spanish law say on the fulfilment of purchase contracts?
The first thing that must be said emphatically is that, under Spanish law, the clauses agreed in a contract have the force of law and, therefore, the parties are required to fulfil them. In other words, the impossibility of fulfilling what has been agreed in a contract is an exception and is interpreted very restrictively.
The Spanish Supreme Court, when dealing with potential breaches of contract and to avoid the loss of the money paid, has established that the party in breach has to evidence and argue the reasons behind said breach, as well as prove that it did everything possible to perform the contract.
However, even after establishing the impossibility of complying with the contract, if it is possible to amend or adapt it so it can be fulfilled, the parties must seek to modify the contract in that way, to solve the problem arising from the situation caused by the state of alarm and the COVID-19 Corona crisis. In other words, when faced with the potential avoidance of the contract by one of the parties, they must always attempt to reach an agreement to fulfil it.
Which property sales could be affected by the state of alarm?
In my opinion, the conveyance contracts that may be affected are those that required either of the parties to fulfil a requirement or condition agreed in the contract before the execution of the public deed of sale and that condition is affected by these months of paralysis.
Due to the paralysation of activities and movement limitations, it is very possible that some of the requirements established in a conveyance contract cannot be fulfilled, as the estimated time to process or manage these were calculated based on a normal situation, which has not existed since 13 March. As an example, we can mention the following:
Purchase contracts in the state of alarm:
- For the conveyance contract to establish the condition of being granted a building permit or the record for legalisation of a home, such as DAFO in rural homes in Andalusia. As city halls are paralysed or working at minimum levels, it is very possible for these applications not to be processed until the state of alarm is brought to an end.
- For the condition to be obtaining a Spanish mortgage. If the appraiser cannot travel to visit the property or the bank's risk department is not operating, this process will be paralysed, making the average resolution time much longer than initially expected.
- For the date of signing the conveyance contract and recording it as a public deed to coincide with the period of the state of alarm and/or the restrictions on commercial flights, making it impossible for either of the parties to attend the notary office.
- The impossibility to obtain an NIE (foreigner's identification number.), which is necessary to sign a conveyance contract before a notary and pay the corresponding taxes. The processing of these documents is currently suspended. The national police stations in Malaga that we asked don't know when they'll be able to open to accept new NIE applications.
- Either of the parties being admitted into hospital or in quarantine.
What should the seller and buyer do in this situation?
Well, the first thing is to see if the private contract contains any clause that governs these situations since, as I've mentioned, the sales or purchase contract has the force of law and binds the parties. However, in conveyance processes where the deed cannot be signed for reasons arising from the coronavirus crisis, what both parties should do would be to amend the contract and extend it, to give time to the party that needs it in order to complete the sale. In most situations, it is only a matter of time for that circumstance or condition that is currently impossible to fulfil to be fulfilled later on.
Likewise, in the event of inflexibility and the refusal of either of the parties to grant such an extension to the conveyance contract, in most cases there would be no legal grounds to terminate the contract and/or claim damages. As mentioned above, the parties must always attempt to reach an agreement to comply with the contract.
Is it possible for the buyer to terminate the contract due to the COVID-19 crisis?
Withdrawing from a conveyance contract due to a sudden drop in house prices and in the face of an economic crisis is a complex issue. In this case, we are referring to the buyer having to accredit meeting one of the requirements established in case law for terminating purchase contracts, this being that there has been an extraordinary change in the circumstances leading to the execution of said contract.
In other words, the buyer would have to evidence that the current economic crisis, resulting in a deep and prolonged economic recession, could be openly considered an economic phenomenon able to generate a severe disruption or change in the circumstances leading to the execution of said contract.
In Spain, the courts have been rejecting the possibility to terminate a sales or purchase contract based on this circumstance. However, this possibility should not be ruled out and individual factors should be analysed, such as whether the home will be a primary home or a holiday home, if the buyer was in need of mortgage financing, if the financial situation of the buyer has changed significantly, etc.
What is the buyer's situation in the sales process?
With this question, what we want to address is the situation of a buyer who made a decision to purchase a home at a specific price a few months ago, based on an economic situation that is in no way similar to the current one.
Let's imagine Dutch, Belgian, English, Swedish or other foreign people who wanted to invest in property in Malaga or the Costa del Sol, either to obtain a profit or to let it. Clearly, the sales price they agreed was based on the value of that property under the earlier economic situation. For instance, let's imagine a home in the historic centre of Málaga or Nerja, highly sought-after areas with tourist attractions before COVID-19, with great possibilities for letting in the tourist market, which is currently suspended.
Well, as a buyer, in the event that continuing with the purchase of the property would lead to incurring significant levels of debt, the first thing to do would be to analyse two things:
- The amount of money paid to the seller (usually 10% of the purchase price). Whether the buyer is willing to lose that money, essentially due to thinking that it is better to lose the money and not buy the property.
- The content of the purchase contract clauses agreed in terms of what happens when the buyer breaches the purchase contract. This is an important issue because a breach of contract could lead to different legal situations. The usual process is to execute an earnest money contract, which entails losing the money paid to the seller, leading to the termination of the contract, this being the clause that our firm usually agrees in conveyance contracts. However, if this is not properly drafted in the contract, it is possible for the seller to be entitled to require the buyer to comply with the purchase contract and sign the public deed, even if the buyer agreed to lose the earlier money paid. Obviously, this claim from the buyer would have to be addressed in judicial proceedings, which would take years before the parties get a resolution and usually sellers settle for keeping the money paid as a deposit.
What is the seller's situation in the selling process?
For sellers, they are most likely the most interested in completing the sale of the home as, certainly, the price set in the sales / purchase contract signed before COVID-19 will be higher than what they can obtain in the short or medium term. Without a doubt, the current situation will lead to a general drop in house prices, even though no one knows how long this will last.
That said, it is possible for sellers who already have a signed contract and who see that buyers are hesitating to complete the conveyance to be interested in making it easier for buyers to complete the purchase. In other words, in this context, negotiating a lower price so that the seller can sell doesn't seem far-fetched. In the end, the price drop would depend on whether it is very important for the seller to sell right now or they can wait, or whether the money already paid by the buyer is enough compensation for the seller to agree to keep that amount as a penalty instead of negotiating.
What is the situation when purchasing new builds or off-plan homes?
In sales of this type, in terms of the performance of the contract by the buyer, the situation is the same as explained above, in terms of both compliance with the contract and its termination clauses. In my opinion, the buyer's potential doubts would be determined by the progress of the works and the expected completion date of the development, also thinking about the financial solvency of the developer.
If the buyer signed the sales contract over one year ago, when the market was experiencing a good time and prices were rising, it is very likely for the price agreed at that time to be lower than what they could find at the beginning of this year, for instance. On the other hand, if the works are close to completion, there would be little doubt as to whether the developer will complete them, as they would be almost completely sold and few buyers would be thinking about terminating the purchase contract, since they would have already made significant payments on account for their homes. In this case, the scenario for the buyer is safe.
In the case of developments where construction has not yet started but which were already being marketed, with expected completion likely coming in a year or two, the scenario is different. In this case, buyers who are in doubt and recently signed the private contract must assess the price of the property and its completion date, as well as find out the number of homes with signed contracts sold by the developer, in order to make a decision. However, if the private contract has not yet been signed and only a reservation had been agreed with the developer, they can withdraw from it and recover the amount paid. They can also wait longer, as developers are likely to lower prices, depending on how long the crisis lasts.
In terms of the solvency of developers, due to the obligation to guarantee all the amounts paid during construction once the private contract has been signed, the buyer would have complete legal certainty in the event that the developer is unable to complete construction. This situation is in no way similar to the 2008 crisis, where many buyers lost their payments on account.
Individual review situation purchase contracts
However, these sales processes starting prior to the COVID-19 crisis can lead to complex situations that should be analysed individually and always with the advice of a lawyer. This is not the time to make decisions without the appropriate legal knowledge, taking into account that a private conveyance contract has already been singed. Rushing is never a good idea.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors, (Málaga, Andalusia)
On 9 April, the Andalusia Council approved, through a Decree Law, an amendment of the tax on inheritance and gifts, which, in particular, entails great tax savings in terms of the tax on gifts. This legislative amendment introduced a bonus of 99% of the tax liability due in inheritance and gift tax, that is to say only 1% of what was previously paid would be due.
Needless to say, the Tax on inheritance and gifts is devolved to the different Autonomous Communities that make up Spain so this bonus is the one in force in Andalusia. But, depending on the location of the property or residence of the recipient (for movable assets) –the person receiving the asset–, legislation will be different on the matter of inheritance and gifts.
Example: A father gifts his son 200,000 euros
With the previous legislation, the tax liability on this gift would have been 31,621.21 euros, which meant that the son would have had to pay 31,621.21 euros in taxes after receiving this money from this father. With the new regulation, this tax liability of 31,621.21 euros can benefit from a bonus of 99%, which means that, now, the son would pay a tax of 316.21 euros. Without a doubt, it represents huge tax savings. When money or other moveable property is donated, the applicable regulation for this purpose will be that of the residence of the recipient.
Who can benefit from this bonus on the gift tax?
Those people included in groups I and II established in the regulation governing this tax can benefit. This means that the recipient must be the spouse, child, grandchild or parent of the grantor; the person who gives away the asset.
What other requirements need to be met for gifts in Andalusia?
Besides being included in groups I and II mentioned above, it will be necessary for the donation to be made effective in a Public Deed before a Notary and, if money is gifted, its source must be justified. In case of donating a property, this Deed will be used to inscribe the property in the new name of the new owner in the Land Registry.
What happens with the Capital Gain Tax and Plusvalia?
From the perspective of the tax on gifts, there is no problem with a parent donating a property in Andalusia for the child to apply the 99% bonus and pay a very small amount for the tax on gifts. The problem in the case of properties affects the grantor because, even if the property is gifted, the Tax Agency equates that transfer to the sale of the property –for the Treasury, there is no difference between donating and selling–. For this reason, the grantor must pay Capital Gains Tax calculated on the difference between the original value paid in the purchase of the property and the value of the property when gifted.
It is important to note that if the grantor is a tax resident in Spain, over the age of 65 and gifting their habitual residence, no capital gains tax would be paid for gifting or selling the property.
Lastly, as the city where the property is located also interprets a gift as a sale, it will ask for its piece of the pie in the form of capital gains tax – Plusvalia in Spanish-. This local tax is calculated according to the number of years that the grantor has owned the property, with a maximum of 20 years, and is paid on the increase in value experienced by the plot/land of the property.
What if I value the property at a low price to pay less tax?
You may be tempted to set a very low value for the property gifted and thus pay less Capital Gains tax when it is gifted. This is perfectly understandable but it is very important for this value not to be below the minimum taxable value, which is the taxable value that the Treasury deems properties in Spain to have. That is to say, the value of the property being gifted should not fall below the minimum taxable value to prevent an inspection by the Tax Agency. The minimum tax value in urban properties is based on the cadastre value of the property multiplied by a factor that varies from town to town.
Does this bonus apply to everyone, regardless of whether they are resident in Spain?
As explained in several previous articles, the most recent from March, different judgments have ruled that both residents of the European Union and residents of third countries must be treated the same as residents in Spain for the purposes of the Tax on Inheritance and Gifts. Based on this, anyone who meets the requirements explained in this article can benefit from the 99% bonus in Inheritance and Gift Tax introduced in Andalusia or any other regulation of the relevant Autonomous Community.
Example of a property being gifted
Let's imagine a Swedish homeowner who bought a property in Almuñécar (Granada) for 200,000 euros and decides to gift it to his son who lives in China, with the current minimum taxable value being 300,000 euros. Since the home is in Andalusia, the son-recipient can benefit from the 99% bonus in the tax due and would only have to pay 554.68 euros for the tax on gifts, of the total tax amount of 55,466.81 euros.
Since the father-grantor obtained capital gains of 100,000 euros from the gift, he will have to pay capital gains tax on this 100,000-euro “profit”, which currently stands at 19% of net profit (after certain possible deductions). However, as the owner is 64 years old, resident in Spain and is gifting his habitual residence, we recommend that he waits until he turns 65 to avoid paying capital gains tax. The son will surely understand the reasons.
What happens to taxes where the recipient resides?
Before accepting a gift, it is important for the recipient to get information, from his or her country of residence, regarding which tax will have to be paid on this, if any. Lastly, it should be said that this amendment of the Tax on Gifts in Andalusia means that the construct of gifts may be attractive in situations where a couple wants one of the spouses to own 100% of the property –only for married couples under separation of assets– or if they want to leave the property to their children or grandchildren during their lifetimes. Previously, from the standpoint of tax savings in Andalusia, the only options were to terminate co-ownership or sell the property but now, with this new amendment, in many cases it will be better to gift it as more taxes will be saved on the transfer of the property.
Read more about the subject of selling your house in Andalusia in the video below:
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, lawyer at C&D Solicitors Torrox (Málaga, Andalusia)
A new decree (28/2012, of 2nd of February) about homes for tourist purposes in Andalusia, will enter into force on 12 May 2016. The aim of this decree is to regulate the large market of homes belonging to individuals and let by them as a holiday accommodation at different periods throughout the year.
These lettings, by days or weeks, as well as the use and terms of the lease, were not regulated until now. Therefore, the purpose of this Decree is to ensure that these homes meet a series of minimum requirements to be let, establishing the rights and obligations of both owners and customers and requiring the registration of the homes.
Clearly, this Decree has a significant impact in Andalusia, especially in Costa del Sol and Axarquía, for touristic cities like Granada, Malaga, Seville, and municipalities such as Nerja, Malaga, Torrox, Fuengirola, Marbella, Mijas, etc., which have many homes used for rentals of this type.
What is a home for tourist purposes?
These are homes located on residential land, offered in exchange for a price for the accommodation of people on a regular basis and with tourist purposes. Homes are understood to be let on a regular basis for tourist purposes if they are marketed or promoted in a tourist marketing channel. E.g.: Airbnb, Tripadvisor, Windu, property agencies, etc.
If you are the owner of a home on residential land in Andalusia and, during the year, you offer it for letting for days or weeks, this home will have tourist purposes. Therefore you must comply with the regulations of this Decree if you wish to continue to engage in this activity legally.
Which homes are excluded from this regulation?
Rural homes (houses in the country side) offered for holiday letting are not regulated by this decree. However, they do have the obligation of registering as a tourist home in the rural environment (Vivienda de Turismo en el Medio Rural). Therefore the owners of these homes must also register them before the Government of Andalusia but under a different regulation.
Homes let by the same person for two consecutive months or longer are not considered holiday homes and, therefore, do not need to register. This refers to homes let under a lease agreement for a period exceeding 2 months.
If, during the year, you let your home for over 2 months but you also let it for days or weeks, you will have to register it. Lettings exceeding 2 months and lettings for days or weeks are compatible in the same home.
An exemption to the application of this Decree is established when a single person has 3 or more homes for holiday lettings, within a radius of approximately 1 km. In this case, this Decree will not be applicable and regulations on tourist apartments will apply.
What does this Decree entail?
The obligation to register any home on urban land that the owner whishes to use for holiday letting before the Registry of Tourism in Andalusia. Once the home is registered, a registration number will be issued that must be displayed when offered for letting. The home only needs to be registered once and the registration number can be used for subsequent letting. The owner is the one legally responsible for registering the home and this home can´t be used for holiday letting unless it is registered before the Government of Andalusia by 12 May this year.
What are the registration requirements?
- The home must be on residential (urban) land.
- It must have a Licence of First Occupation. If it does not have the initial occupation permit, a certificate from the City Hall showing the location and use of the home should be accepted, but we are waiting for the written confirmation of the Junta of Andalusia.
- Depending on the season, all accomadations need to be equipped with cooling and heating. In this case, the period for the owner lacking these installations is extended until 12 May 2017 and the property may be let during that period.
- The home must have the essential furniture and furnishings required for the total amount of persons it is rented out to.
- A first-aid kit is required.
- It must have tourist information about the area, showing places to visit, restaurants, etc. A small tourist guide or advertisement from the corresponding tourist office can help you meet this requirement.
- It must have complaint and claim forms available to customers in a visible place.
- The home must be cleaned upon the check-in of new customers.
- Linen and tableware appropriate for the number of people.
- Contact telephone number to handle problems and emergencies.
- Information and instructions about the appliances/equipment in the home must be available in a specific place.
- Information must be provided about internal rules for the use of facilities, according to the regulations of the Residents' Association (community rules).
- The maximum amount of people allowed in the property is 15.
- In case you are renting out a room, instead of the entire house, the maximum amount of people allowed per room is 4.
- All bedrooms must have external ventilation through windows.
What are the obligations for each customer?
A contract document must be signed by all parties, showing the details of the property, the owner, the number of days of stay and the price of accommodation, as well as the identification of people with a copy of their passports or residence cards. We are talking about a simple document of just 1 or 2 sheets, that the owner must keep for a period of 1 year.
Likewise, the owner must notify the Guardia Civil (police) of the occupation of the home with each new customer. The owner must provide a copy of the contract and the passports/identity cards of occupants.
What happens if I don't register my home in this registry?
Inspection services may review the situation and begin penalty proceedings. Be careful, because the fine may range from 2,000 to 18,000 Euros.
Furthermore, you have the obligation to allow inspectors to enter the home when they visit it to verify that it meets the requirements for letting. If you do not allow inspectors to enter the home, you could be fined for very serious misconduct, with a large penalty.
What else does this Decree regulate?
Among other things, it regulates the rights of customers in cases where there is a conflict with the owner regarding the price of the letting, check-in and check-out times, advance payments or deposits for letting, etc. Ultimately, it regulates the terms for prices, booking, advance payments and cancellation, unless otherwise agreed in writing between the parties.
Taxes on income received
This registry is of an administrative nature, dependent on the Government of Andalusia and created to regulate the conditions of holiday lettings. It has nothing to do with the obligation to pay taxes on rental income. Likewise, if your home is registered in this Registry but you do not rent it out, it will have no cost to you.
The payment received for letting a home -either for holidays or long-term (longer than 2 months)- must be declared before the Tax Agency, which depends on the Central Government. The income tax you pay depends on the fact wheter you are a fiscal tax-resident in Spain (IRPF tax) of not (IRNR tax).
Even though the Decree will enter into force on 12 May, it is already possible to start the process to register homes in this Registry. If you have one or several properties being let as holiday homes you must register them before the Government of Andalusia. We can take care of processing the documents you need to register your home. We can also inform you about all the requirements that your home must meet and your obligations as its owner. Don't hesitate to contact us at 0034 - 952 532 582 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Nerja/Andalucia)
Last 24 June, the Senate approved an amendment that provides greater protection to third-party homeowners acting in good faith in administrative proceedings. This amendment was approved with the favourable votes of the main political groups and introduces a third paragraph in article 108 of Law 29/1998, of 13 July, which regulates contentious-administrative proceedings in Spain.
This new third paragraph provides that: “The Judge or Court, in the cases where, in addition to declaring the construction of a property to violate regulations, it issues a reasoned order to demolish the works and restore the physical reality altered, shall require, as a condition prior to demolition and unless a situation of imminent danger prevents it, the provision of sufficient guarantees to respond to payment of compensation due to third parties acting in good faith.”
In other words, with this paragraph, it is guaranteed that the judge ordering the demolition of a building in administrative proceedings must ensure, prior to the demolition, that third parties acting in good faith that will be damaged by the demolition of their homes will receive compensation. This means that, what this new subsection regulates is that a home may not be demolished if the homeowner cannot be compensated in advance, as it is understood that the homeowner has no reason to suffer these damages when the party responsible for the unlawful act committed by building the home was someone else.
The approval of this new subsection equates the handling of the enforcement of judgments on buildings, which entail their demolition, in administrative and criminal proceedings since, as we explained in our article from March, the criminal code has also been amended in this sense.
The amendment in the administrative field, which gives greater protection to third parties acting in good faith, is even more logical, from a legal standpoint, than the one in the criminal field and, needless to say, represents the correction of a regulatory mistake that resulted in great injustice.
It should be noted that, in contentious-administrative proceedings, courts examine building licences granted by the City and which have been unlawfully granted due to being contrary to the plan of the municipality.
Before this amendment, when a judgment nullifying a licence of this type was handed down, usually, one of the consequences of this nullification was the obligation to demolish the works completed under the licence declared null, without compensating homeowners acting in good faith at the time of demolition in these proceedings. The only option for these homeowners was to start different judicial proceedings either against the City or against the seller of the property, which could take years to be solved and provided no certainty of recovering the investment made. We can thus prevent cases as regrettable as that of Mr and Mrs Prior.
We can affirm that, in judicial proceedings related to buildings, both in the administrative and criminal fields, thanks to these legislative amendments, homeowners who purchase or will purchase a property in good faith, not being responsible for any unlawful act, will enjoy greater protection of their assets and property rights.
Part of what we denounced and explained in an article published in 2013 has been addressed by these changes, even though there is still some way to go and more legislative changes are expected.
This legislative amendment, as the one introduced in the criminal code in March, has been made possible thanks to the work of several associations of people affected from many different areas in Spain, including: AUAN, AMA and SOHA. The continued and persistent work of these associations, their representatives and the lawyers involved have made it possible for all homeowners in Spain who are third parties acting in good faith to enjoy greater legal certainty.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors, (Lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
Yesterday Thursday 26 March, the Lower House of the Spanish Parliament ratified the amendment to article 319 of the Spanish Penal Code, approved by the Senate last 12 March. A paragraph has been added to section 3, which reads: “In any event, the Judges or Courts of Law may issue a reasoned order to demolish the works and restore the physical reality altered at the expense of the principal thereof, without prejudice to the compensations due to third parties in good faith, and, assessing the circumstances and after hearing the competent government body, shall temporarily subject the demolition to the constitution of guarantees that ensure their payment. In any case, the seizure of the earnings from the offence shall be available, regardless of the transformations that these may have undergone”.
This new regulation will be into force next 1st July.
Until now, in proceedings regarding an Offence against Town and Country Planning, the judgment ordered the demolition of what had been built illegally and compensation was set by way of civil liability for the developer, in favour of buyers acting in good faith. The problem is that, in most of these cases, collecting said compensation was very complicated since the developer was either insolvent or had disappeared. However, enforcement of the demolition was not stopped, for which reason we could find ourselves before an unfortunate scenario where a buyer acting in good faith and recognised in a judgment could have his home demolished without being effectively compensated.
From now on, in criminal proceedings for Offences against Town and Country Planning, the judge may stop the demolition of the home until due compensation to the third-party acting in good faith is guaranteed.
From the literal wording of the amendment introduced, it seems that the judge will be the one who, after assessing the specific situation in each case, will stop said demolition, for which reason I understand that it will be an essential requirement to prove that the buyer is really a third party acting in good faith.
Likewise, it seems interesting that, in assessing whether to stop the demolition, it is required for the competent Government Body, which I take to be the City Hall, to be heard in the proceedings. I suppose that, in these cases, the City Hall can provide relevant details leading to stopping the demolition. Also, since the City Hall is the one responsible for executing the demolition, it may argue on the suitability of stopping it until it can ensure compensation for the third party acting in good faith.
Lastly, this amendment refers to stopping the demolition temporarily, i.e., a specific period of time is not established but, in any case, it should not perpetuate over time. However, the concept of “temporarily” is very wide and it may be interpreted as sufficient time to guarantee compensation to buyers acting in good faith.
I can say, with full knowledge, that this amendment of the Penal Code has been possible mainly thanks to the work of two associations in Andalusia that have been working on protecting buyers acting in good faith for several years: SOHA and AUAN, especially noting the great work done by Gerardo Vázquez, a colleague of mine, attorney and legal adviser at AUAN. The efforts of these organisations and their mobilisation have made this amendment possible.
The aforementioned organisations, along with many others that have been created, are justified by the great problem faced in Andalusia, which has 300,000 homes built in non-developable land (NDL). On the Andalusian coast, due to foreign residential tourism, many buyers are foreigners and this has led these owners, facing the legal problems with these homes, to move to defend their interests, to strengthen and to tell authorities about the existing situation.
The main problem, at least in Andalusia, has been the complete inactivity and inefficiency of Urban Planning in Andalusia, which has led to a failure in regulating non-developable land in Andalusia and to the existence of many homes built on non-developable land.
Regulations with very fixed and strict criteria governing construction on non-developable land were approved. However, Autonomic and Local Governments have completely neglected to provide the necessary oversight to enforce these regulations.
From the beginning of the years of the housing bubble, the competent government bodies have shown no predisposition to initiate and solve disciplinary procedures against offenders, with all the legal consequences that this entails, such as demolishing what has been illegally built. The governing party in City Hall should have assumed the “feared” political price that these unpopular measures may have entailed.
Most of these buildings have everything: registered deed, pay IBI (Property Tax), are registered in the Property Register, have electricity and water, and have paid autonomic taxes such as ITP (Tax on Asset Transfer) and AJD (Stamp Duty).
Many of the properties have changed owners, meaning that the person responsible for construction is no longer the owner of the home. When these properties enter legal proceedings, third parties acting in good faith appear, affected by this situation that the Local and Autonomic Governments, with full knowledge, have allowed due to their complete inaction in the field of Urban Planning.
The regulations provided in the Urban Planning Law of Andalusia (LOUA) to govern the very strict use of non-developable land were based on environmental protection and on maintaining the rural value of a large portion of the Andalusian territory so as to preserve this environment and its values.
However, its lack of application due to a lack of real and effective control of what was being done on non-developable land has given rise to the failure of regulations on the use of non-developable land provided in the LOUA.
In reality, this has resulted in large rural areas becoming full of unregulated buildings, achieving the opposite effect, as the lack of protection of the rural environment is clear in these cases.
In practice, a total lack of protection of rural land has occurred in some areas under greater urban pressure, where, without controls or any type of criteria regarding what was being built at the architectural level, construction has been allowed, of palaces, warehouses, terraced houses, one-storey homes, towers and everything in between. There has also been no control of the necessary infrastructure or facilities for these homes to be used: discharge of sewage, illegal wells to obtain water, etc. Furthermore, many of these homes did not pay local building taxes, as the majority were not eligible to obtain a licence under the LOUA.
However, as we explained in a previous post, it should be noted that, in some cases, the licenses for segregation, building and initial occupancy were indeed granted for some of these homes. The fact that the Government is responsible in these cases is more than obvious and the damages suffered by owners, who purchased the homes in good faith, are completely reprehensible.
This situation of deregulation of non-developable land has an undesirable effect on citizens, as there is a feeling that there are citizens who ignore the law and go unpunished and that there are others who are required to comply with it.
If the urban planning disciplinary proceedings had been started quickly and efficiently at the beginning of that frenzied period of real estate development on non-developable land, the message that citizens would have received would have been very clear and many buildings would not have been built. There would still be homes on non-developable land but the magnitude of the problem would be quite different.
Faced with this situation, the legal response to solve this problem should be consistent with the reality that exists and that has been tolerated by the Government itself for so many years. This is why the necessary legislative reforms in this area must be tackled rigorously and without propaganda messages, avoiding a focus on the debate on “amnesty for everyone” or “offenders must pay” because the situation is much more complex.
In the administrative field, the majority of these homes should be regularised as, in many cases, penalties for using land illegally would have expired and many of the developers-builders are not the current owners.
In the future, there should be a debate regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of Urban Planning under current regulations, as well as regarding whether the regulation of non-developable land in the LOUA is adequate for the purpose it intends to fulfil.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyer)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
Last Monday October 14th, the Regional Andalusia Government Junta de Andalucia carried out the demolition of two houses which were built without construction permit on non-developable land in the rural area of Las Terreras, in the municipality of Las Canteras, Almeria.
In this case, the developer did not have construction permits to build both properties. This is a different situation from that explained in our blog post in March, but there are also involved third parties in good faith, who bought the aforementioned properties to the developer/seller. The demolition of these properties means the infringement of a fundamental property right according to the interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which has demanded that:
- People affected by court or administrative proceedings which may imply the loss of their assets shall have the effective and real opportunity to defend their situation.
- Property loss due to general interest—for example, the compliance of planning legality over ownership of assets—shall be previously compensated to the owner.
Therefore, upon consideration of this European case law, it is not sufficient that in these two cases the judgment has assessed civil liability and the seller-developer is sentenced to compensate owners who bought these properties, but this compensation should be made effective prior to demolitions to avoid the risk that the seller fails to pay or is not able to pay and, as a result of this, third parties in good faith are not compensated. It should be noted that subsidiary liability of public administrations is not observed, as no construction permit was granted.
In order to guarantee the payment of compensations, appropriate actions should be taken prior to execute demolitions in the same proceedings for the enforcement of judgments. If this were possible, this situation should be determined as a reason to stop the judgment enforcement until compensations are paid to the affected owners. Obviously, each case should be analysed in order to determine whether the owner knew about the absence of construction permits and even though he was aware of the risk involved, he bought the property. In these cases, protection for these owners should be different.
Regarding certain information compiled by different means, there is a chronological perspective to be pointed out in respect of these two demolitions, which reveal the inefficiency of inspection and penalty procedures in regards of town-planning regulations, as well as the belligerent approach of public administrations participating:
- In 2004, the Andalusian Regional Government initiated a proceeding against the developer and he was fined because of the earthmovings in this area. Then, he was obliged to restore it to its original state. Obviously, the developer failed to comply with this order to restore it to its former state. In addition, the Town Council or Andalusia Regional Government should have acted in this moment, as well as they have done now, when carrying out the demolitions.
- In 2007, the Andalusia Regional Government officially ordered to the Town Council the demolition of the properties, as they have been built on non-developable land without construction permits. From 2004 to 2007, 3 years have elapsed. During this period of time the 4 properties were built and no competent public administrations did paralyze the works before they were completed. As a result of this, the completed houses were entered into legal transactions and then new owners arised. Why were construction works not paralyzed within these years?
- Once that the 4 properties were completed, the Town Council authorized water and electricity supply for them; this illegal authorization granted by the Town Council implied that these homes were appropriate to be occupied, as these supplies were essential for their sales.
- In 2012, The Andalusia Regional Government seemed to request the Town Council to execute the demolitions.
- In October 2013, the demolition of two properties was carried out by the Andalusia Regional Government, because the Town Council did not do so. The other two properties are also pending to be demolished.
Nine years have elapsed since the construction activities without permits are known until their demolitions were indeed executed. During this period of time, third parties in good faith have appeared and been affected by this situation. Have public administrations really done their utmost? Could have they acted earlier and with greater accuracy since 2004?
It would be a rather difficult task to think that the Andalusia Regional Government and Town Councils are not liable for a large number of homes built without permits on non-developable land in Andalusia—liability becomes obvious for those properties built with construction permits—since they had aerial images of each area, cadastral information and documents from the Payments Offices for transfer tax collection, which may have allowed them to protect non-developable land and enforce Andalusia town planning Act (LOUA). But they did not want to do so. Accordingly, as town planning duties have not been complied in respect of inspection and penalty procedures, the liability of Andalusia Regional Government and Town Council is joint and shared.
It is also worth mentioning the existence of certain arbitrariness on the part of public administrations when judgments were enforced, since older proceedings are still pending to be enforced and no actions are being taken on them.
Foreign residential tourism is a key factor for local economies in many areas; different national newspapers have been looked up and all of them echoed the new demolitions, which is a very harmful publicizing. They stressed the absence of economic compensations before demolitions were carried out, rather than demolitions itself.
It is not a question of implementing a general amnesty for all irregular acts executed on non-developable land without permits, since this may lead to a negative message for people who meet regulations. However, the fundamental property right should not be further infringed in conformance with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case law and property right should be protected in Spain as a fundamental right. In addition a legal system which protects third parties in good faith should be provided in order to ensure legal certainty; inspection and penalty procedures should be carried out and should not go on forever due to the lack of interest of public administrations, so that their effectiveness may paralyze these type of constructions before they are entered into legal transactions; common sense and realism should be imposed and Regional Governments should be consistent with what has been accepted in these years, due to their failure to act or interminable penalty and enforcement procedures.
It seems understandable that town-planning legality will be now strictly enforced and hopefully it will be watched over. However, solutions should be provided from a logic and legal perspective for all previous cases.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
One of the legal problems affecting some owners of properties on non-developable land has originated in the last ten years with the invalidity of building permits, which protected these constructions on non-developable land. This invalidity has been obtained in most of the cases by means of the corresponding contentious-administrative court proceedings.
First of all, the invalidity of a building permit would imply the demolition of what has been built under this permission on specially protected non-developable land; in case of common non-developable lands (without special protection), this invalidity may imply the demolition if more than four years has not elapsed between the end of the construction and the beginning of contentious-administrative proceedings or the invalidity procedure ex-officio by the Town Council. After March 2012 six years should have elapsed.
From a legal point of view, the main problem lies in the third party in good faith, included in Article 34 of Spanish Mortgage Law, who purchases a property to the former owner who had a building permit to build, and later on, he finds out that this permit has been challenged by contentious-administrative jurisdictional courts and found null and void by final judgment before the sale execution; or he finds out that there is a contentious-administrative proceedings going on when he bought the property and has not been finished yet. Therefore, sooner or later a judgment may be received stating that the permit is invalid.
The third party in good faith is not able to know about these facts because until the 1st of July 2011 it is not compulsory to register in the Land Registry the invalidity of the building permit ordered by final judgment or resolution ex-officio by the Town Council. This modification was incorporated by the Spanish Royal Decree-Law 8/2011 approval modifying some articles of Spanish Land Law. For this reason, this third party purchaser is not able to know about this situation, becausethe Land Registry has not recorded in most of the cases the decisions taken on building permits which may affect their property rights.
The abovementioned Royal Decree-Law approval has set the compulsory registration in the Land Registry of the legal condition of the property, so that the Public Administration bodies will be responsible if this notification is not served to the Land Registry when contentious-administrative proceedings are affecting the building permit granted to the property. Articles 51 and 53 of Spanish Land Law (Royal Decree-Law 2/2008 of 20th of June) set forth this compulsory registration, so that the third party in good faith may be able to know about the legal situation of the property by looking up the Land Registry and then decide about buying or not this property knowingly and intelligently.
However, regarding the abovementioned information, a problem arises when considering the facts previous to the 1st of July 2011—whether the proceedings are finished at this date or they are not resolved yet, because the abovementioned compulsory registration in the Land Registry was not in force as to this date as former regulations were applied.
In my opinion, the main problem of Spanish legislation in this field and its most frequent interpretation by Spanish case law, lies in the fact that the third party in good faith accessing the Land Registry is not protected by the Registry certification and the legal certainty that the Land Registry must provide, prevailing the planning legality support over the registry certification. We understand that is not abiding to law, because the third party in good faith, legal owner and unaware of the legal situation concerning the building permit, shall not be subject to the negligence of Public Administration. In the interest of legal certainty, the rights of the third party in good faith should prevail over the planning law enforcement.
Apart from the abovementioned situation of the third party in good faith, the core problem lies in the fact that the property right in Spain does not enjoy a special protection. It is also worth mentioning that Spain is subject to comply with the Rome Convention, which considers the property right to be a fundamental right with a special protection. Concerning its interpretation of property right, The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) itself has demanded the following:
1) Those affected by administrative or court proceedings which may imply the loss of their assets shall have an effective and real opportunity to defend their situation.
2) Any deprivation of a property to his owner due to the general interest—as the enforcement of planning law, requires a previous compensation for this deprivation. In fact, a recent resolution of the ECHR of the 31st of January 2013 by cautionary measure has cancelled a demolition in Cañada Real (Madrid) until the Town Council provides an alternative accommodation to the family occupying the property and the outlined underlying matter is resolved. In this case, we refer to the demolition of a property in a shanty-town located in specially protected land and without building permit.
Therefore, the Spanish legal system should reconsider certain substantive decisions providing the property right with a fundamental nature and protecting it. As a result of this, the protection of the third party in good faith should be one of the cornerstones of this protection, because this third party must not bear the damage of the unlawful conduct of Public Administration when granting these building permits, both in these cases where the invalidity proceedings were not entered in the Land Registry and were not available and those cases where proceedings are initiated against the building permit once the third party in good faith is the new owner.
In addition, these owners, who built their properties with the corresponding building permits granted by Town Councils, should not be deprived of their property right by means of the property demolition without compensation to cover their loss, as this demolition is originated by the negligence of the Town Council and not by the owner.
Spain should ensure compliance with its obligations as an EU Member State, as the property right concept of the Rome Convention and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case-law is obvious in this regard. Therefore, we understand that this Convention is being infringed by Spain, apart from the fact that the current situation contribute to legal uncertainty.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
In this year we have published several blog articles regarding tax changes on property subjects which the Spanish Central Government has passed over this year. In that regard, the deadline to implement most of them finishes on the 31st of December.
As a requirement to increase tax revenues, this new year will bring the removal of some tax reliefs which are currently enjoyed by home buyers in Spain.
From the 1st of January, home buyers in Spain should consider that the following tax incentives will disappear:
1) 50% tax exemption on capital gains obtained for the future sale of the property which had been purchased before the 31st of December 2012.
2) The Spanish VAT rate will increase from 4% to 10% for new housing purchases.
3) Tax deduction for main residence purchases, applicable in the event of tax residence in Spain.
Tax saving when buying a home before the 31st of December may become a very significant factor to keep in mind for those looking for a property in Spain and hesitating about different alternatives to take a decision. In these cases, we recommend them to make up their minds before the end of the year in order to take advantage of the above mentioned tax relieves.
Furthermore, sellers have also a reason to sell before the 31st of December—from the 1st of January 2013, Spanish Plusvalia (municipal capital gains tax on land) rate may increase from 66% to 150%, depending on the municipality where the property is located.
It is also worth mentioning that Town Councils reviewing cadastral values in the last 5 years were obliged till now to apply a 40% to 60% reduction on the resulting payable fee for Plusvalia tax. However, from the 1st of January 2013 this obligation will disappear—then, each Town Council may decide whether to apply or not this reduction. Regarding the current economic situation of most Town Councils, all of us may have to get use to the idea that just a few of them may decide to apply this reduction.
Author: Gustavo Calero Monereo, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)
The Spanish Constitution and the regulations (tax and social) developed thereof, regarding the protection of the elderly, guarantee that the elderly will receive a comprehensive system of care and protection that promotes and enhances the wellbeing of this section of the population, within which this article highlights the area of economic protection.
The purpose of this type of protection is to formulate a system of regulations that provide the elderly with the necessary economic resources, which will contribute towards their independence and improve their quality of life.
As principle provisions or benefits within this economic protection of the elderly, we can highlight, among other things: retirement pensions (contributory and non-contributory), supplementary economic provisions, various subsidies and aid, which is granted within the scope of Social Services, as well as certain tax benefits.
In relation to this matter, this article will focus on the exemption from capital gains tax, which, for those over 65, occurs at the time that their habitual residence is sold.
Gains derived from the transfer of immovable property are taxed, for non-residents, at a fixed rate of 19%. For residents, the first €6,000 is taxed at 19% and the rest is taxed at 21%.
Moreover, in the case of the transfer of property by a non-resident, the purchaser shall be obliged to withhold and pay 3% of the sale price as payment on account of taxes which should meet the requirements of capital gains for non-residents and that should be paid directly to the Tax Authorities. Said retention from the sale price is not incurred if the seller has the right to tax reduction for the transfer of property that is their habitual residence, for those over the age of 65.
Article 31.4 b) of Law 40/1998, which regulates personal income tax, establishes that those over the age of 65 shall be exempt from capital gains in the event that the property transferred is their habitual residence.
The only two requirements for eligibility for this tax exemption are the following:
- The taxpayer must be over 65 at the time that the transfer takes place.
- The transferred property must be their habitual residence. In order that the property be considered a place of habitual residence for the purpose of this tax, two temporal limits are established: 1) it must be effectively occupied by the taxpayer within a period of 12 months from the date of acquisition or from the termination of any building work; 2) it must constitute their place of habitual residence for an on-going period of at least three years prior to the date of sale.
Author: Francisco Delgado Montilla, C&D Solicitors (lawyers)
Torrox-Costa (Malaga/Costa del Sol/Andalucia)